Sunday 7 February 2010

Movie Review: Avatar (2009)

Watching Avatar in 3-D, the word that comes to mind is: game-changer.

In terms of technical achievement, Avatar redefines the benchmarks. Here is a whole new lush planet, Pandora, that comes to life at a level of detail that is orders of magnitude beyond anything seen in the Star Wars movies. Here also is a new virtual species, the Na'vi, who start out looking strange at 10 feet tall, blue and with tails, but end the movie as more familiar and more human than the earthlings.

And most of all, here is gorgeous 3-D technology being put to use to create life without gimmicks, without gizmos, and without spears or rocks being thrown at the audience. The 3-D is simply and brilliantly used to draw the audience into the movie and create a level of involvement never experienced before. Avatar is not a movie watched; it is movie experienced.

After his achievements with Terminator, Titanic, and now Avatar, director and writer James Cameron has cemented his place among the all-time giants of the movies.

The story of Avatar is powerful enough, but will certainly not win any awards for originality. It is a modern, science-driven take on the often-told narrative of invaders with a heavy foot trampling over a pristine land and disrupting the lives of locals. Substitute Pandora for North America and the Na'vi for natives; or allow the whole movie to represent US foreign policy in the Middle East -- it's all been done before.

The details here revolve around mining for the precious mineral called Unobtanium (clever name), which is only found on Pandora. The humans have established a joint scientific / military base to extract the stuff, but unfortunately the Na'vi keep getting in the way. The Na'vi combine ferocious but basic fighting skills with stealth, speed and oneness with nature to create a formidable obstacle in the way of the heavily armed but blunt human troops.

The science team (led by Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine) develops avatars in the shape of the Na'vi, to allow humans to take on native form and appearance. The objective is to better understand what it will take to move the Na'vi out of the way of the biggest Unobtanium deposit.

Jack Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralyzed marine who gains full mobility in his avatar, quickly becomes the focal point for both the scientists and the soldiers, as he is accepted by the Na'vi -- and falls in love with the daughter (Zoe Saldana) of the Na'vi chief. The ensuing conflicts that erupt between duty and love, aliens and natives, scientists and soldiers, science and nature, the physical and the spiritual, are all familiar, but are treated on an impressively grand and deeply satisfying scale.

Avatar is an immersive, breathtaking experience, and claims an undeniable place among the most major of milestones in movie history.

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